Fearing the Enemy vs. Fearing Ourselves

This quote is from one of my favorite pieces from William James. He seems to deeply get the superiority of Tolstoy’s (and later Ghandi’s) militant pacifism. He also recognizes that it is better to marshal our forces to fight the patent enemies outside of us, than to be controlled by our fear of our own weaknesses:

“[M]ankind was nursed in pain and fear, and that the transition to a “pleasure economy” may be fatal to a being wielding no powers of defence against its degenerative influences. If we speak of the fear of emancipation from the fear-regime, we put the whole situation into a single phrase; fear regarding ourselves now taking the place of the ancient fear of the enemy.

Turn the fear over as I will in my mind, it all seems to lead back to two unwillingnesses of the imagination, one aesthetic, and the other moral; unwillingness, first, to envisage a future in which army-life, with its many elements of charm, shall be forever impossible, and in which the destinies of peoples shall nevermore be decided quickly, thrillingly, and tragically by force, but only gradually and insipidly by “evolution,” and, secondly, unwillingness to see the supreme theatre of human strenuousness closed, and the splendid military aptitudes of men doomed to keep always in a state of latency and never show themselves in action. These insistent unwillingnesses, no less than other aesthetic and ethical insistencies, have, it seems to me, to be listened to and respected. One cannot meet them effectively by mere counter-insistency on war’s expensiveness and horror. The horror makes the thrill; and when the question is of getting the extremest and supremest out of human nature, talk of expense sounds ignominious. The weakness of so much merely negative criticism is evident — pacifism makes no converts from the military party. The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor the expense; it only says that these things tell but half the story. It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self, and that mankind cannot afford to adopt a peace economy.

Pacifists ought to enter more deeply into the aesthetical and ethical point of view of their opponents. Do that first in any controversy. . .  then move the point, and your opponent will follow. So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war’s disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war, analogous, as one might say, to the mechanical equivalent of heat, so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation. And as a rule they do fail. The duties, penalties, and sanctions pictured in the utopias they paint are all too weak and tame to touch the military-minded. Tolstoi’s pacifism is the only exception to this rule, for it is profoundly pessimistic as regards all this world’s values, and makes the fear of the Lord furnish the moral spur provided elsewhere by the fear of the enemy. But our socialistic peace-advocates all believe absolutely in this world’s values; and instead of the fear of the Lord and the fear of the enemy, the only fear they reckon with is the fear of poverty if one be lazy. This weakness pervades all the socialistic literature with which I am acquainted. Even in Lowes Dickinson’s exquisite dialogue, high wages and short hours are the only forces invoked for overcoming man’s distaste for repulsive kinds of labor. Meanwhile men at large still live as they always have lived, under a pain-and-fear economy — for those of us who live in an ease-economy are but an island in the stormy ocean — and the whole atmosphere of present-day utopian literature tastes mawkish and dishwatery to people who still keep a sense for life’s more bitter flavors. It suggests, in truth, ubiquitous inferiority.”

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3 thoughts on “Fearing the Enemy vs. Fearing Ourselves

  1. Oops, I meant to publish that on my personal blog, but I think it actually has relevance to this conversation. People naturally want to be militant about fighting for righteousness against the “enemy.” Mormonism is a sort of Christian Militarism, similar to Americanism. It’s success is based on the way it marshals forces. It’s rosy view of humanity allows for a greater measure of pride at church. However I think Mormons need to be more Christian and less American in their militarism in order to be effective against the enemy they claim to be fighting.

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